“Shi Mu? I’ve long since heard the name, he’s the one who is claimed to have neared the tenth level in body tempering at the mere age of fifteen. Is this his older brother?” Looking at Shi Mu’s great stature like that of an adult’s, Gu Zhong could not help but show his astonishment. The thing was, though there were not many who could reach the intermediate level in body tempering before they turned twenty, some did struggle to do it at the age of eighteen or even nineteen. But if one could reach the tenth level at merely fifteen, he could undoubtedly be called a genius. Throughout the city, one can count such geniuses on his fingers. This meant that these genius practitioners must have a higher chance of acquiring qi-sensing than others, and would have much more potential if they become Houtian warriors.
Thinking thus to himself, Gu Zhong immediately greeted Shi Mu with clasped fists, beaming with admiration, “Haha, Brother Shi has achieved the tenth level at such an early age; you’ll definitely outshine others in this competition.“
“Thank you for your kind words.” Shi Mu also replied with clasped fists, smiling kindly to the speaker.
“You’ve completed the tenth level?” The dark, thin ape-like guy, Tie Zhong, unexpectedly shouted his question to Shi Mu, his voice harsh and grinding, as if it had not yet changed into a mature one.
“Yes.” Shi Mu answered in a seemingly casual manner.
“Humph, I once fought a practitioner of the eleventh, and it turned out that he was exhausted at last, fainting right at the ring. Until the last moment he was unable to break my Body of Thick Earth.”
“If so, I may not be your match in any case. But pitifully your opponent may not be me by then.” Shi Mu only threw him a yawn in reply.
“Whoever becomes my opponent will definitely shrink from my Body of Thick Earth.” Tie Dong asserted his forthcoming success clearly and proudly, before he turned and left by himself. As for Sun Jun standing beside Shi Mu, he did not once cast him a glance.
“Is he always so full of himself?” Sun Jun blanched with rage, shouting in a loud voice involuntarily.
“Hehe, it’s...um...” Though Gu Zhong had always been skilled at peacemaking, he was at his wit’s end now.
“Brother Gu, why not stop putting in a good word for the guy? To be frank, even our Feng Hong’s seniors have some grudges against him; it’s only that some instructors hold him to be priceless, so there’s no help for it anyway. After all, though full of himself, the guy’s Body of Thick Earth really deserves its name. At least Brother Li and I cannot harm him a bit.” The puffy-faced ‘younger brother Jia’ was now explaining with a sardonic grin.
“Is it so dreadful, the Body of Thick Earth? Brother Li, if my memory has not failed me, your skilled Water-Splashing Sword Art is the best when it comes to fighting hard outer skills.“ Hearing that, it was Li Yunfeng’s turn to be surprised.
“Oh! You’ll know the power of Body of Thick Earth if you meet the guy in the ring. Words can’t describe it.“ Gu Zhong answered with a bitter smile, reluctant to continue the conversation.
“Humph, even if the defense of the Body of Thick Earth is so dreadful, I can’t believe Wang Tianhao’s Blazing Spear cannot find a way to conquer it!” After a brief silence Sun Jun sneered his suggestion.
“It’d be difficult to judge then. In the last tournament, young master Wang, with his just-learned Blazing Spear, defeated all the practitioners from four clubs, with barely anyone able to resist. Now that one whole year has passed, Wang Tianhao’s skills must have increased immensely. But it seems Wang Tianhao is the most aggressive of the guys here; I’ve heard that even the senior practitioners of his own club would be beaten mercilessly if any of them were to get in his way.” Gu Zhong shook his head vigorously in disapproval.
At such a remark, Sun Jun, Li Yunfeng and some others directed their eyes to Wang Tianhao; only Shi Mu stood still as if he had heard nothing, gazing at the dark thin youth not far away.
The youth in white who was scrubbing his spear seemed to feel the glances, thus he lifted his head suddenly to meet their eyes. Li Yunfeng and his fellows were caught unguarded at the returning look, evading it one after another with embarrassed smiles.
The youth in white glanced over them with a stony face, then paused his eyes on Shi Mu, and stood up suddenly to stride toward them with his spear thrown backward over his shoulder.
“Wang...young master Wang, you’ve been well since we parted?” Gu Zhong was the first one to make the greeting among the stunned group.
“Who are you? Have we met before?” Wang Tianhao cast him a cold eye, asking bluntly in reply.
Gu Zhong could not be more embarrassed in this situation. Li Yunfeng and his fellows dared not to speak a word then, only standing there and bearing the youth’s glances over them.
“What’s your name? From what club do you come?” Wang Tianhao’s eyes paused again on Shi Mu, sizing him up and down closely, before he drew his iron spear slowly from his back, pointed it at Shi Mu and asked thus in an extremely stony voice.
“Oh? You have some business with me?” Shi Mu frowned before turning to look at this young master Wang, his eyes unusually calm and clear, showing no fluster at all.
“Have I met you before?” Wang Tianhao looked at Shi Mu, narrowing his eyes.
“Absolutely not. It’s the first time I’ve met the honorable young master.“ Shi Mu replied with much assurance, his eyes unblinking even for a moment.
“Never met? But you look so familiar to me!” Wang Tianhao’s spear was still pointed at Shi Mu, a trace of suspicion flashing across his face.
“Young master Wang, have you met younger brother Shi Mu some place in the city?” Li Yunfeng finally opened his mouth with a nervous cough, but in his mind he felt as strange as Wang Tianhao. He did have some knowledge of Shi Mu’s background, but even racking his mind, he could not think of any relations between the two. Gu Zhong and Sun Jun could only be left wondering without a single clue.
“Hehe, alright, I may be mistaken. So your name’s Shi Mu, right? Good, I hope to have a good fight with you in the ring.” Wang Tianhao glanced several times over Shi Mu’s unmoved face, then narrowed his eyes and burst into laughter. After withdrawing his spear, he went away on his own.
Seeing this, Gu Zhong and Li Yunfeng, as well as other fellows could only gape at each other. No one knew what was behind the top practitioner’s act just then!
“Brother Shi, do you know Wang Tianhao?” Li Yunfeng could not help but blurt out his question.
“Surely not, um...or not quite an acquaintance? “ Shi Mu only gave an ambiguous reply, his hand stroking his chin.
“What? What do you mean, ‘not an acquaintance’?” Li Yunfeng’s eyes were wide open in surprise; he suddenly had a feeling that this Shi Mu right before his eyes was a mysterious figure. So did Gu Zhong and the others. But seeing Shi Mu’s uninterested looks, they felt it improper to pursue the inquiry.
“Senior Feng, have you seen it? Just then Wang Tianhao went for the Liu Feng and Fei Hong guys; he also pointed his spear, but only returned after some words. What trick is he playing?” As the host for the competition, Tian Lu Club could not only offer three candidates; in fact they had as many as seven or eight candidates. The one at the center was exactly the most famous practitioner among them, Feng Jun, carrying a scar on his face, his eyes fierce and malicious.
At the moment, Feng Jun was listening to his brothers talk and simultaneously watching Wang Tianhao’s moves with a ferocious glare in his eye. As the nephew of Tian Lu Club’s leader, he had not only learnt the brutal skill of the Iron-Clothes Body unique to Tian Lu Club, but also had sharpened his Black-Hands skill which high level Practitioner skill. Therefore, though he missed the chance to get enrolled into Kai Yuan Martial Arts School last time, he had never once seen his peers as his match, and had won the championship in the competition among clubs many times.
But all his feats had been disturbed when he lost the match to Wang Tianhao last year, who despite being many years his junior, had beaten him with his spear without difficulty, even stomping on his face in the ring! He - the champion Feng Jun - had never hated someone so bitterly to the extent that he confined himself to the club for months to exercise after the defeat, only wishing to avenging himself!
It’s lucky that though he challenged a strong practitioner some time earlier and got his Iron-Clothes Body badly beaten; it turned out to be a blessing in disguise: his Iron-Clothes Body successfully reached the level of accomplishment due to a month’s rest. Thus he became quite confident to fight to the last round of the tournament and to stomp on Wang Tianhao’s face. But, the moment he saw Wang Tianhao again in Tian Lu Club today, the side of face, which was stomped, felt feverish again, which reduced his confidence slightly.
Thinking this, Feng Jun finally spoke with a sneer, “Are you so sure that only the bastard with Body of Thick Earth deserves attention in this tournament? What about the other candidates from Fei Hong and Liu Feng club?”
“Senior Feng, please rest assured, we’ve asked around many times. The two clubs were originally much weaker than us, the only one you need to pay attention to is that Body of Thick Earth guy, which our leader has mentioned too. But even with the body, a bastard from some remote place could not get any high skills. Senior has that Iron-Clothes Body which is never inferior to the Body of Thick Earth, plus, with your tenth level in body tempering, the bastard would be exhausted to death by your skills!” Another Tian Lu practitioner hurriedly offered his flattery.
“As long as that’s true! Then I could deal with Wang Tianhao with all my strength!” Feng Jun stroked one side of his face, radiating murderous smiles.
But accidentally, just as he said so, his newly recovered ribs felt a slight trace of uneasiness.
Just then, the door to the auxiliary room behind the practice ground was opened from one side, and amid bursts of laughter, Li Canghai and some other senior men from the four clubs strolled out, each talking cheerfully and humorously with the others, as if having a reunion with their old friends.
“Well, the competition among the four clubs officially begins now!“ The leader of Tian Lu club, Feng Lengchan, proclaimed decisively, after a glance over all the practitioners.